Self-Destructive Behaviors in PTSD

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at heightened risk to engage in a number of different self-destructive behaviors. When you think about the symptoms of PTSD, this makes a lot of sense.

People with PTSD experience very strong, frequent, and unpleasant emotions and thoughts, which may increase the likelihood that they will rely on unhealthy coping strategies, such as deliberate self-harm or substance misuse. Although these behaviors may reduce distress in the moment, they have many long-term negative consequences.

PTSD symptoms may start within three months of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms don't appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships.

The following self-destructive behaviors often go hand-in-hand with the symptoms of PTSD.

Depressed woman sitting on edge of sofa
Seb Oliver / Cultura / Getty Images

Deliberate Self-Harm

People with PTSD may be more likely to engage in self-injurious behaviors, such as cutting or burning themselves, as a way of managing intense and unpleasant emotions. Before you can stop engaging in self-injurious behavior, it's important to first learn why it might have developed.


Alcohol and Drug Misuse

Various studies have looked at rates of alcohol and drug misuse among people with PTSD. These studies have found that individuals with PTSD are at greater risk of developing substance use problems than people without PTSD.



Approximately 34 million adults in the United States currently smoke, and it has been found that people with PTSD may be more likely to smoke than people without PTSD.


Unhealthy Eating Behaviors

People with PTSD have been found to be at higher risk for eating disorders and unhealthy eating behaviors. For example, people with PTSD may restrict their food intake or may engage in binge eating.



People who have experienced a traumatic event may be more likely to attempt suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Help a Loved With Suicidal Thoughts

When someone you care for is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can be a very frightening experience. You may not know what to do to help your loved one, but you can be prepared.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. McDevitt-Murphy M, Murphy J, Monahan C, Flood A, Weathers F. Unique Patterns of Substance Misuse Associated With PTSD, Depression, and Social PhobiaJ Dual Diagn. 2010;6(2):94-110. doi:10.1080/15504261003701445

  4. Current cigarette smoking among adults in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.